Australia to ratify ILO Convention No 190 on violence and harassment

A woman is sitting in front of an open laptop. She is in an open-plan contemporary office with a cup of coffee next to her. Beside her sits a man leaning his chin on his hand. They are both looking at another man sitting in front of them holding a digital tablet.

In November 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged to table the International Labour Organization Convention No 190 in the Australian Parliament ─ the first step in ratifying this important convention and affirming the right of Australians to a workplace and work culture based on human rights principles.

This move strengthens and reinforces the Commonwealth Government's commitment to ensuring all workplaces are free from violence and harassment. Ratification of the Convention will also build on the approach taken in the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Bill 2022, which was introduced on 27 September 2022 and passed into law on 28 November 2022.

What is ILO Convention No 190?

ILO Convention No. 190 (Convention) is the first international labour standard to provide a common framework to prevent, remedy and eliminate violence and harassment in the workplace, including gender-based violence and harassment. The Convention includes the specific recognition, for the first time in international law, of the right of everyone to a "world of work" free from violence and harassment, and sets out the obligation to respect, promote and realise this right.

The Prime Minister's move to table the Convention before parliament is significant for several reasons:

  1. It will see Australia, as a nation, adopt an international standard of a zero-tolerance approach to violence and harassment in the workplace.
  2. It recognises that violence and harassment in the workplace can constitute a human rights violation or abuse.
  3. The Convention covers all workers, even job applicants, and calls on nations that ratify it to develop and implement comprehensive national legislation.
  4. As stated by the Prime Minister at the International Trade Union Confederation conference on 21 November 2022, it is a "statement from our nation affirming the right of every person to a work culture based on ‘mutual respect and dignity’".
  5. The adoption of the Convention by Australia as law, according to the Prime Minister, will encourage the full and equal participation of women in the workforce, which he says is the nation's greatest untapped resource. The Prime Minister has acknowledged equal participation of women in the workforce as crucial for economic reform.

What is the significance of the Convention?

Many Australian workers have experienced harassment and violence (including bullying) in the workplace. The necessity for measures in this space are best illustrated through some alarming statistics.

  • One in three people (33%) have experienced sexual harassment at work in the last five years
  • Only 17% of people reported being sexually harassed at work
  • Workplace sexual harassment has a high cost. As well as having a devastating and profound impact on individuals, Deloitte Access Economics estimated that workplace sexual harassment cost the Australian economy $3.8 billion in 2018
  • The Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces (2021) reported over three-quarters of people (77%) currently working in these workplaces have experienced, witnessed or heard about bullying, sexual harassment and/or actual or attempted sexual assault at work

Accordingly, all legislative efforts to prevent (or at the very least minimise) such issues are critical.

How can employers prepare now for the adoption of the convention?

Employers should start familiarising themselves with the principles of the Convention. Relevantly, they should consider the following:

The definition of violence and harassment (Art. 1)

Unlike national legislation which defines violence and sexual harassment as single and separate concepts, the Convention defines violence and harassment as a “range” rather than drawing a distinction.

The scope of protection (Art. 2)

The Convention's scope is broad, applying to both the private and public sectors and protects workers and other persons in the world of work, including:

  • employees as defined by national law and practice
  • persons working irrespective of their contractual status
  • persons in training, including interns and apprentices
  • workers whose employment has been terminated
  • volunteers
  • jobseekers and job applicants; and
  • individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer

The circumstances of when the Convention will apply (Art. 3)

The Convention applies to violence and harassment occurring “in the course of, linked with or arising out of work". This is broad and includes the workplace, during breaks, at work-related trips, training and social events, as well as through work-related communications.

The Convention is premised on the adoption of an inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach to prevent and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work. Employers should review and strengthen their current activities on prevention, protection, enforcement, remedies, guidance, training and awareness raising of all workers (see The scope of the protection above).

Reviewing policies and procedures

Existing policies and procedures may need to be considered in light of the Convention's requirements to ensure:

  • that they promote fundamental principles and rights at work (Art. 5); and
  • the right to equality and non-discrimination including for female workers, as well as for persons belonging to one or more vulnerable groups or groups in situations of vulnerability that are disproportionately affected by violence and harassment (Art. 6).

If the Convention is ratified, employers will need to take all appropriate steps to prevent violence and harassment in the workplace.

This article is adapted from an article originally published by International Employment Lawyer.

Photo by Nicola Katie via Getty Images Signature.

All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.

Key contacts

James French

James French